Books We Loved, Nov. 2023
Here we are, in mid-November, with the winter holidays heading our way at full speed. In the Northern Hemisphere, the evenings just got dramatically longer with the shift back to Standard Time—and of course, temperatures are dropping. So amid the preparation of everything from turkey to latkes and Christmas cookies, there couldn’t be a better time to indulge in a good novel. Among this month’s books we loved, one will make you laugh, one will almost certainly have you fighting back tears, and the third will reassure you that love always wins out in the end.
Louise Clark, The Cat Came Back (ePublishing Works!, 2016)
As noted in a recent post on my own blog, I’m a pushover for novels featuring cats. I also enjoy cozy mysteries, historical or contemporary. And as luck would have it, contemporary cozy mystery writers seem to love including felines in their books, because who is more curious than a cat?
But, as one might imagine, getting the cats to communicate their findings to their human partners is the challenge. Approaches range from “accidental” toppling of important clues to genetic anomalies that permit full-on inter-species conversations, but few solutions can match Louise Clark’s for humor, imagination, and flair.
It would be churlish to reveal what’s going on, since finding out is part of what drives this first installment of a series—set in and around Vancouver, British Columbia—that already contains eight books. The central character, Christy Jamieson, is a young mother thrown out of her high-society home after her husband, Frank, absconds with a large part of the family fortune and—oh, yes—another woman. Even her daughter’s beloved cat, Stormy, has disappeared from the family mansion Christy and her daughter are being required to vacate. Searching for answers, Christy makes a deal with Quinn Armstrong, a journalist. But it’s only when the cat comes back that Christy and Quinn start to figure out that more lies behind Frank’s disappearance than an embezzlement scheme.—CPL
Melanie Jacobson, The Fall Back Plan (Author, 2023)
Anyone who struggled to fit in in high school harbors a fantasy, even a tiny one, about coming back later and sticking it to those who made their life miserable. And that’s exactly the plan Jolie McGraw has in mind when she returns to Harvest Hollow. Now the owner of the bar that supported the drinking habit that eventually killed her father, Jolie has some scores to settle—including with Lucas Cole, the bad boy she once tutored in math and who tormented her because of it. The boy who has, inexplicably, become the town sheriff and caretaker of a ten-year-old niece, and who isn’t anything like she remembers him.
Jolie’s reappearance in Harvest Hollow doesn’t sit well with a few of the people who remember her, and before she knows it, rumors have slowed her booming new business to a trickle and she finds herself at the center of a ridiculous, but potentially criminal, investigation. Thankfully she has the sheriff on her side, even if it’s proving a struggle to keep him from getting closer than that.
This is a cute and cozy story, set in a town reminiscent of Gilmore Girls’ Stars Hollow and populated with (mostly) likable characters—perfect for reading under a blanket on a crisp fall day.—CJH
Joan Schweighardt, Under the Blue Moon (Five Directions Press, 2023)
Under the Blue Moon is a humane and compassionate exploration of two intersecting lives, both impacted by grief. On the surface, Ben, a homeless man living under a bridge, and Lola, the owner of a successful pet grooming business, seem to have little in common, except for the coincidence of Ben witnessing Lola being hit by a reckless driver as he’s entering the homeless shelter.
There are parallels in their stories, though. Both have lost children, in one case in a metaphysical sense, and in the other through an actual death. Sad and numb, both find the most solace in their companion animals. Ben, once a successful married architect, was unable to face homelessness without taking his beloved cat from the family home. Siggy is all that remains of the life he once had, which he lost partially through his own carelessness. Lola has a best friend who irritates her and an ex-husband she can’t forgive. Her dogs provide acceptance and love while soothing her soul. Both Lola and Ben feel guilt for failing their children, which makes them hard on themselves—and others. This is the story of their gradual healing through connecting with their community and helping those in need.
Joan Schweighardt draws on her own work with Albuquerque’s homeless shelters to offer us insights into the daily challenges of living on the street, and her novel reminds us that just one unfortunate incident, like a fight in a bar, can change the trajectory of a life.—GM
And if, instead, you’re in the mood for a little adventure from long-ago, check out The Merchant’s Tale by P.K. Adams and C.P. Lesley—our latest release, hot off the press just this week. English merchants in the reigns of Henry VIII's short-lived son, Edward VI, and his half-sister Mary journey around the top of Scandinavia looking for the spice-rich Orient. Instead, they land in the court of the Russian tsar, soon to be known as Ivan the Terrible. What could go wrong?